Back in the U.S.A

August 31, 2008 at 6:19 pm (Concord, Friends, Lille, School, Study Abroad, UR)

I don’t have much time right now, but I just wanted to let y’all know that I am back in the United States and am going to be returning to UR tonight to start classes there tomorrow.  I don’t feel like going into much detail right now (maybe later), but essentially for some personal reasons the whole study-abroad-thing did not work out for me.

To everyone: Thank you so much for your love and support.

To my friends who are studying abroad: I hope you have a fabulous time!  I haven’t had the time to catch up on blogs or communicate much with anyone since I’ve been travelling for almost 2 days straight (and still have another plane ride today!), but I promise that once everything settles down, I’ll hunker down and try to catch up on all the fabulous things you guys are doing!  Much love!

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Big Brother Knows…

August 28, 2008 at 6:52 pm (Facebook, French, Study Abroad)

It’s a very weird feeling to have so many of my regularly-visited sites to know that I am now in France.  All sites run by Google translate automatically into French.  Facebook pushes French ads on me.  WordPress tells me that I can switch over to the French WordPress.  There have been a few other times where I have been redirected to the French version of a website.  Hellooooo Big Brother in action!

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Surviving a French Dorm 101

August 26, 2008 at 11:45 pm (French, Lille, Oops, Rants, Study Abroad) (, , , , )

Lesson 1: Laundry

My first adventure tonight was catalysed by my decision to search out the laundry.  I knew it had to be somewhere downstairs, so that’s where I started my search.  In one corner of the kitchen, I found a door that had a sign that looked like it said TV Room and Wash Room, so I opened it to discover another flight of stairs.  Descending these stairs I dicover a dark room at the bottom.  Grasping at the walls, hoping to find some sort of light switch, my hand finally hits something that happens to turn on the lights – miraculous!  I venture into the now-lit room and discover a foosball table that I would have crashed into had I gone into the room any further sans lights.  Turning left I see a big TV that seems to be facing a wall, and then two big couches in an adjoining room.  The room I am standing in is basically empty.

Then I catch sight of a dark hallway leading off in the distance.  I find the light switch for this hall and slowly walk towards the end.  On either side of me, there are doors that lead to who-knows-where.  I think I hear sound coming from somewhere, but can’t be sure.  At the end of the hall, I turn right and stumble into what turns out to be the laundry room.  Imagine an ugly basement with a concrete floor and huge concrete sink on one side, with splotches of stains in random places.  That is my laundry room.  And guess what?  There is only one washer and one dryer.

The moral of the story?  Laundry day is going to be a blast as I lug my laundry down 5 flights of stairs and through a small warren of rooms only to find that someone else is already using the machines.  Fabulous.

Lesson 2: Showers

My second adventure was catalysed by my need to be clean (surprise, surprise!).  Being on the 5th and top floor, we do not actually have showers, and so have to share the two showers on the floor below us.  I had scoped them out earlier and knew that each shower was in its own little room, so i didn’t have to parade down the hall and down the stairs in my towel, but rather could wear clothes there and change in the locked room.  Thus, I bring my pjs along with all my shower stuff.

Fortunately, there aren’t many people here yet, so both showers were free.  I chose the one with a bigger room.  Stepping into the shower, I notice that the shower head is one of those hand-held ones with no apparent place to hang it from.  An obstacle, but not insurmountable.  Knowing that the water will be cold as I try to figure out a good setting, I hold it close to the drain when I turn it on.  Unfortunately, no matter which way I turn the knob, it doesn’t seem to be getting any warmer.  In addition to this, I discover that if I don’t continually push the knob, the water turns off in about 10 seconds.  Frustrated to no end at this point, I finally leave it on what feels like the warmest setting (by maybe 2 degrees) and resign myself to taking a cold shower that night and testing out the others in the coming week while simultaneously swearing to myself that if I can’t get a hot shower, I am going to be on the next plane home.

As I try to wash my hair only with this cold water, I discover another reason to not like hand-held showers: my hair is too thick for the pressure to get through and therefore I need to contort everything to make sure that all my hair gets wet.  And then – miracles upon miracles – the water gets warm – and then hot!  The perfect temperature with a good pressure!  As I look up to thank the heavens for this, I notice a hook to hang the hand-held device!  Will the wonders never cease?  Finally I can take a wonderful hot shower to wash away the stress of the day.

The moral of the story?  Well, it could be a metaphor for this whole study abroad thing, in that everything may seem terrible at first, as soon as I resign myself to that fact, it will become better than I could image it.  But no, the moral of the story is that the French are too stingy with their water.

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First Day of French Class

August 26, 2008 at 2:15 pm (French, Lille, School, Study Abroad) (, , )

Today, we had our first(ish) day of the pre-university French class that I am taking.  All we did today was meet 2 or the 3 teachers and take test to show the teachers our French abilities (they assured us it would not be graded and they would be the only ones to see it!).

I met up with K, the other girl from UR here, and we walked over to the building where the French class was.  I had thought that there would be a bunch of different classes, one for each ability level that we had to determine a few months ago when signing up for the class, but instead, there are less than 15 of us in total, and we are all in the same class.  There are two Japenese students, one Mexican, one Brazilian, and about ten of us Americans.

The test was made up of four parts: listening, speaking, reading comprehension, and writing.  Since I had understood everything the teachers had said up to this point, I assumed I would be fine on the listening part, even if we were only able to hear each part once.  Boy, was I wrong!  The French was spoken rapid-fire and I barely caught a single word, much less a phrase, that I understood.  Talking to K after the test, I was happy to hear that I was not the only one thrown off by this.

For the speaking, the teachers simply talked to us one-on-one in a separate room, asking us about ourselves and how much French we had had, etc.  I think I did fairly well, except when trying to describe my major.  I finally had to give up and say that I was studying Communication.

The reading and writing sections weren’t terrible, but I still think I did terribly on them.  I guess it doesn’t really matter though, since we’ll all be in the same class anyway, and it’s not like I’d be placed in a remedial class, relearning the basics.  For the writing, there was this one word I kept trying to remember, and it never came to me, until a conversation concerning a different topic while talking with K later.  I could only remember the Latin!

After the test, I waited around for K, and had the chance to talk to two other American students, one of whom reminds me strongly of a friend at UR.  There seems to be one school in PA that sent about 6 students to this one program, so they all know each other.  In general, it seems like a good group of people in the class, so I think it will go pretty well.  The class is set up in two blocks a day, one from 9am-12:30, and then reconvening from 2-5pm, so we’ll be spending a lot of time together!  The first block sounds like it is going to be like a French class in the US, with grammar and culture and all that jazz, while the second part is totally focused on conversation.  It will definitely be tough, but good.  And we get Fridays off.  So this is my schedule for the next week and a half, after which school starts officially, I believe.

After class, K and I went to the grocery store and picked up a few things, grabbed lunch together and then split to our separate dorms, where I have stayed since.  Nothing too exciting.  Tomorrow will be interesting, as I have really enjoyed being able to escape to my English-centered world.  Ah well, it’s good for me, right?  That’s what I have to keep telling myself…

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Move-in Day

August 26, 2008 at 1:56 pm (Lille, Study Abroad) (, , )

Monday was move-in day for me.

My uncle and I got up around 7:15, took quick showers, grabbed breakfast at the hotel (love the bread here!) and headed to the school to check in right as they opened at 8:30.  The check-in process went fairly smoothly, and before I knew it, I had my key to the dorm!

My uncle and I went back towards the hotel, hoping to find a cell phone store on the way, but, in classic French fashion, nothing really opens until 10am, and it was still 9am, so we decided to just hang out until the shops opened before moving my stuff to the dorm and having to return to the store we had found.  Finally, the store opened, and the only sales associate who could speak English was busy, so we took a look around ourselves, found some information, and decided to go to another store just to compare prices.  At the other store, we found someone who spoke English really well, which was necessary because my uncle is the one who knows everything about phones, and so he was the one asking the questions about everything.  We found a good pay-as-you-go phone and added a good number of minutes to hold me for a bit.

Finally, it was time to move to the dorm.  My key lets me both into the front door and into my room, so I don’t have to worry about losing one or the other and being stuck (though of course if I lose that one key, I am really up a creek without a paddle!).  We discovered that my room is on the fifth floor, which was sooo much fun when it came to moving my bags up and into my room!

Concerning facilities, there are 2 toilets on my floor, we have to go downstairs one level to take a shower, and everyone has a sink in their room.  There is no air-flow in the rooms, so while I am in my room, I keep the window open all the time, but I’m not sure what I’ll do during the winter…

Here are some pictures of my oh-so-lovely room, including a close-up of my fabulous desk (aka a board on two sawhorses, essentially), and the view from my window:

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In Lille! Day 1

August 26, 2008 at 1:22 pm (French, Lille, Study Abroad) (, , , , , )

My apologizes for not announcing my arrival before, but as I’m sure you can imagine, it has been a bit crazy.

My uncle H and I left London on Sunday around 2pm for a 3:30 train to Lille.  I knew the train was going to be fast, but I didn’t realize how fast!  I mean, I had time to look out the window and watch the countryside go by, and if my camera wasn’t packed, I could have taken a few pictures, but I feel like I only had time to read a few chapters of my book before we arrived!

In Lille, we took a quick cab ride to the hotel, where we essentially dumped our stuff and headed out to walk around Lille and figure out where we needed to go the following day to sign in and everything.  Luckily, our hotel was about half way between the school and my dorm, though a bit more to the east, so the three landmarks formed a triangle.  Since it was a Sunday in August, almost nothing was opened.  The French take their vacations very seriously, as my uncle and I laughed about many times.

After finding the school (which is much like UR in that it is almost all red brick in the Gothic style – pictures to come later) and my dorm (which is a 25 min walk from the school – ick!), we returned to the hotel and asked for a good French restaurant that would be open.  Once we got a reservation, we went up to the hotel room so my uncle could rest his knee that he had injured a week or two ago.

At 8pm, we headed out to the restaurant, which was only a few minutes from the hotel.  If was a really sweet little restaurant, with only about 5 tables total.  It was located in a house that was inhabited by the Knights Templar in the 16th century, and still had their motto carved into the wall.  After that, it was used to house some other historical figure(s) that for the life of me I cannot remember.  The architecture was gorgeous, as befits a 500-year-old building!

We both started off with some champagne, which was palatable, though my hate-affair with alcohol continues.  For dinner, I had some fabulous lamb medallions and my uncle had some sort of fish.  He ordered a wine that apparently is the absolute best wine to go with lamb (he used to work in the wine industry and absolutely loves wine and knows so much about it), but I unfortunately still could not appreciate it.  Dessert was yummy expresso mousse dollops sandwiched between wafer-thin pieces of dark chocolate – so yummy!  Definitely going to be the best meal I’ll have here in Lille, as I don’t think my bank account will support anything even close to it…

After dinner (which, in traditional French fashion, lasted about 2 hours), we headed back to the hotel as we were going to get an early start the next morning.  Unfortunately, I think I got about 4 hours of sleep as a result of the combination of jet lag catching up with me + expresso mousse for dinner + my uncle snoring.

And so my first few hours in Lille were pretty much a success.  I got to use my French a few small times, translating some for the taxi driver, which was also good.  And I didn’t freak out.  Too much….

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In London!

August 23, 2008 at 12:58 pm (Study Abroad) (, , , , )

I arrived in London at 7:15am local time (2:15am EST) and was able to lug my heavy, heavy (I think I overpacked!) luggage to the meeting place in Paddington station and was even able to use a pay phone to call my uncle to pick me up!  See how independant I am already?  Y’all should be truly proud.

Anyway, the flight was not too bad (though the food was).  My seatmate was an Italian woman who lives in the States and was flying to Syria to visit some family.  She was really chatty, but nice.  I had to show her how to use the remote control thingy for the seat-back TV a couple of times.  Meanwhile, I watched Iron Man, though I didn’t think it was that great.  By the time the movie ended, all the lights in the cabin had been turned off and my Dramamine was kicking in, so I tossed and turned for about 2 hours, though I did get some sleep.  Though of course when I finally found my best position, I was awakened by the lights turning back on about 20 minutes later 😦

I took an hour nap this afternoon before heading out to Camden with my aunt, uncle, and cousin Claire for lunch and a little shopping.  Despite the massive amount of people there at any given time, I really like Camden and could spend hours there browsing and stopping myself from splurging.  Fortunately for my wallet, I have no room for anything else in my bags currently, so I couldn’t buy anything today, though I found some absolutely fantastic dresses! 

After this little foray, we returned home, where I discovered that my laptop and my uncle’s network do not like each other, and so I am unable to use Skype to call home as I had planned.  I was able to call my family on my uncle’s cell, but el boyo shall have to wait until Monday when I move into my dorm.

Speaking of the dorm, I just went onto Facebook and saw that the other girl on my program (who arrived a few days ago), had posted some pictures of her dorm.  Granted, she’s in a different dorm, but at least it gives me some idea of what to expect.  I promise I’ll take pictures of my dorm when I get there.  And of everything else 😀

That’s all the news I have for now!  I’m sure another loooong post will be coming as soon as I move in, so stay tuned!

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Last Full Day in the States!

August 22, 2008 at 1:42 am (Books, Family, Friends, Movies, Study Abroad, Summer)

Wow, I seriously cannot believe that this day is here already.  I’m leaving in like 20 hours!  And I get to take more stuff with me than I thought!  Yey!

But let me start at the beginning…

My mother and I ran around today like chickens with our heads chopped off, trying to get enough Euros for me to take with me to pay my first month of rent in cash like the crazy French request.  We cleaned out two different AAA places while also managing to go to some other stores to pick up all those last minute crazy things that you never realize you need until the very last second.  And we still have to go out again tomorrow before I head to the airport around 4pm.

After we finally return from our epic trip around the greater Boston area, I get to start finishing packing.  On Tuesday, I had actually packed the vast majority of my clothes, sans what I have needed in the past few days.  Tonight I had the explicit joy of having both my parents hover over me as I try to finish packing everything else, with much undesired commentary.  As I believe I have mentioned before, I like my alone time.  I know I won’t see my parents for a while, but that does not mean that I need them hanging on to me every second of my last days with them.  In fact, it really does not help their cases any.

Oh, and on that point, my father and my mother and I had a lovely discussion at dinner tonight in which my father expressed his complete uncomprehending disbelief that my mother and I do not feel comfortable simply chatting with a stranger under any circumstances, whether it be waiting in line somewhere or at a cocktail party where you are actually supposed to make random conversation and mingle.  He simply could not understand how we could possibly be uncomfortable with this.  He has been married to my mother for 24 years and known me my entire life and still has not grasped this innate truth about the two of us.  It is simply beyond his comprehension capacity as it is a totally alien concept to him.

Anyway, to resume:  while packing, I had had the foresight to purchase some of those fabulous vacuum bags that you suck all the air out of in order to cram more stuff in a tight space (hint: Linens ‘N Things declared bankrupcy and so are closing down some stores, which means lovely sales!).  As a result of these wonderful creations, I am able to bring some semblance of a bed set instead of having to figure out crazy French stores on my very first day in Lille!  Of course, I can’t bring everything, but I can bring enough to get me through a few days (or weeks…) as long as the weather doesn’t suddenly take a turn for the worse.  This was a very, very happy discovery!  And, my bags are still under 50lbs!  Yey!

After finally kicking my parents out and finishing what I could for the night, I settled down to finally watch a movie that I ordered from interlibrary loan way back in May!  It finally came in last week, and this was my first chance to actually sit down and watch it.  The name of the film is The Ultimate Gift based on a book by the same name.  It’s a feel-good, inspirational movie/book, but that doesn’t mean it’s cheesy.  I mean, it is, but not really.  Just watch it.  And it’s Drew Fuller.  And he’s amazing!  And James Gardner.  And Abigal Breslin.  So just go find it somewhere and watch it – trust me, you won’t regret it!  (And now I feel like some cheesy, creepy salesman.  Fabulous.)

So that was my last full day in the States.  Tomorrow, I’m getting up early and having some friends over, then running some errands, and then heading to the airport!  I’ll try to update y’all as soon an possible!  Au revoir!

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Yet Another List of Bulleted Updates…

August 20, 2008 at 1:10 am (Books, Family, News articles, Rants, Study Abroad, Summer) (, , , , , )

  • The weather today was crazy.  Most of the morning, it rained like crazy, and then the sun finally came out, but the wind stayed, and the tree outside my window was waving so violently that it looked like i had a strobe light in my room.
  • Started packing today.  Essentially finished packing my clothes except for what I’m using between now and Friday.  Filled my big duffel with a bit of room to spare.  Still have my rolling duffel to fill with other stuff.  Having two huge suitcases sitting on my floor where I have to see them every day is a weird constant reminder.
  • Went into Boston to visit my aunt and uncle and their two kids today before I head off to France.  It’s always interesting to hear my parents describe how el boyo’s visit went, since it’s the only way I get a straight answer out of them since I’m not about to ask them about it.  But at least all of their answers have been positive.   My aunt is really disappointed that she has yet to meet el boyo.  In other news, we had some really interesting, intelligent conversation over the dinner table.  My new nickname is Jeeves, as in Ask Jeeves, as in I can answer any question posed to me through logic and it thus seems like I know everything in the world.
  • Had to unsubscribe from one of my blogs that was looking really promising.  They have done the unforgivable.  They insulted one of my favorite books of all time, one of the few books that I always can turn to and know I’ll enjoy even though I’ve basically memorized it.  And they even suggested that people go see the movie if they must know what it’s about even though the movie and book are totally different!  It is utterly infuriating!  Especially since they admitted that they didn’t even finish the book and yet are condemning it!  I can’t stand people like this.  My chest is tightening in rage even as I type this though this occurred over an hour ago.  ARRRRG
  • In happier news, The Augusta Chronicle published an article about my great-grandmother, Genie, as she reflects on living 100 years.  Great article, though it only begins to show the eccentric essence that is the fantastic matriarch of my mother’s family.  :sigh:  Gotta love her. 😀

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Jumping on the Bandwagon and Hitching it to France

August 18, 2008 at 2:46 pm (Books, Study Abroad, Summer) (, , , , , , , , )

Last night I was up until 2:00am exactly reading Breaking Dawn.  In the afternoon, I sat down and read Eclipse in about 4 hours since I had only started it previously but had never finished it and figured I should read it before I went on to the last one in the series.  Those books are better than I remembered, and an enjoyable quick read.  I’m not sure I completely understand the total obsession with Edward as the heartthrob-to-end-all-heartthrobs, considering I just want to be Bella simply to have her powers, not necessarily to have Edward.  To be completely honest, I think Edward is a bit annoying.

Anyways, in other news, we are still trying to work out all the housing stuff for France, seeing as how I’m going to be moving in this time next week…  There are some definite drawbacks to being the first one to enter a program, and it certainly doesn’t help to have a rookie study abroad advisor at my home school who seems to have even less of an idea of what’s going on than I do.

The most exciting thing to happen this weekend was that i got to play with a Sony Reader.  Recently, I’ve been salivating over Amazon’s Kindle, but have not had the chance to actually touch one since no one I know owns one and, considering Amazon is totally online, there’s nowhere I can go to test one.  Thus, it was sooooo cool to actually be able to touch/handle/play with a Sony Reader even though I didn’t know too much about it.  I really liked the design and ease of use, but since I have read so much about the Kindle, I was constantly comparing the two.  At least now I know that I really really do want one.  Of course, I would need unlimited funds to use it as I would like to, since they cost between $300 and $400 each, not to mention that books are $5-$10.  So in order to fill the Sony Reader with 160 books, as they advertise, I would have to be able to spend about $2,000, which, as a poor student who is about to go to expensive Europe for a few months, is nowhere near a good idea.  (And for the record, I would get the Kindle over the Reader even though I have not experienced the former, simply because it has more capabilities for only about $50 more.)

PS I know the title of this post doesn’t make sense, but it popped into my head, so bear with me 😀

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